The orientation advantage Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007
Jennifer Wilson, St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International Jennifer Wilson, St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International

When initiating an employee into a corporation, it’s ideal for the new hire to begin contributing as soon as possible. But, is the corporation giving its new hire the resources needed to effectively bring his or her skills to the table? Amidst simple introductions and training, there’s an opportunity for a company to provide a formal orientation on its procedures, policies and culture that can more seamlessly let a new employee hit the ground running.

“Orientation helps new employees become more comfortable in their new environment, which, in the long run, is going to lead to them contributing more quickly,” says Jennifer Wilson, St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International.

Robert Half developed a survey in which 87 percent of respondents who received a formal orientation said that it helped them to prepare for success within that corporation.

Smart Business asked Wilson about the steps businesses can take to develop an orientation program and what benefits this kind of training may provide.

What can employees gain from an orientation program?

The more comfortable employees are — knowing more about their position, the organization’s policies, administrative information — the better it allows them to focus on their role versus having to worry about extraneous details. Most importantly, I think it helps employees feel a sense of camaraderie. They feel as if they belong more quickly when they’ve been orientated to their new work environment.

What benefits might an employer see from an orientation program?

Employees who go through orientation can become productive more quickly because they understand what is expected of them and have been given a foundation for success. A formal orientation program also helps boost recruiting efforts. When people are given tools to succeed, they’re going to have a positive impression of the company, which distinguishes the company among job candidates and, in the long run, leads to better employee retention. When members of a company feel as if they’re supported with professional development and goals, they’re more compelled to want to stay with that organization. This, again, leads to a more positive reputation that helps when recruiting.

Who within the company should be responsible for orientation?

An effective orientation program includes contributions from multiple contacts within the company. Representation from senior management is always powerful and shows that professional development is valued at all levels. The direct supervisor of the employee should explain performance expectations and the job description. A human resources representative should be involved with presenting benefits, compensation and company policies. You may also want to have top performers within the company there to share some of their successes.

Why doesn’t every company have a formal orientation program in place?

Some employers might feel as though they’re not able to dedicate the time or resources to develop this type of program. I’ve seen many companies that have a very informal program in place and feel that it’s effective. The more structured an orientation program, the more beneficial it will be.

What expenses can be expected?

It’s a case-by-case scenario. Some companies may have a large global operation where flights and hotel expenses are involved. For a smaller corporation, it may be a once-a-week training session on-site. It’s really dependent on the company’s size and resources.

What are some components of an effective program?

Start off by sharing the company’s mission statement and core values. Talk about the organization’s structure, the industry and its competitors. Discuss job description and performance expectations. The employee handbook and general policies should be covered, as well as anything regarding benefits, vacation time and compensation. Some companies have security clearance issues to explain or even reporting procedures. There should also be an introduction to the company’s key contacts so that if employees need access to information they know whom to approach.

Should orientation cover company culture? the

Absolutely. Some of that may be covered in the mission statement or in a discussion of company’s values. But if your company has large numbers of satellite offices, the culture could be a little different everywhere, and that needs to be covered.

Should orientation be a one-time occurrence or an ongoing process?

The most successful orientation programs are ongoing. The first couple of days may be more of an informational approach, but that should be followed up by a more extensive, formal program that includes ongoing training, perhaps with a mentor or manager. Supervisors need to find a way for employees to receive ongoing guidance — the process

doesn’t end the first week on the job. Spacing things out also prevents staff from becoming overwhelmed with information and helps from a retention and learning standpoint.

JENNIFER WILSON is St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International. Reach her at (314) 621-5260 or